EPIC: McKay Forest Housing Project and Green Diamond “Take” Permit

by Tom Wheeler, Executive Director

Large New Housing Project Proposed for McKay Forest

A large new residential housing development is being proposed for the outskirts of Eureka, cutting into the McKay Forest in Cutten. The project proposes 320 new residential units, in a mix of single- and multi-family developments, together with 22,000 square feet of commercial space incorporated into the development across 81 acres of now-forested lands. The project would require rezoning and subdivision, bringing the project before the Planning Commission. 

EPIC, together with our allies at the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities and Humboldt Baykeeper, have numerous concerns with the project. We support the development of appropriately-sited and well-conceived housing that supports a diversity of housing needs, particularly low-income, affordable by design, and accessible housing, however, this project needs work. 

The development fails to adequately appreciate greenhouse gas emissions associated with construction and use of the residence, together with the loss of carbon sequestration potential. To compensate, the project would merely buy carbon credits. Not good enough. We can reduce carbon emissions by solarizing the project where feasible, and moving all home energy use to electric (and not running new natural gas lines to the project). We can reduce carbon emissions by diverting more car trips to foot, bike or bus through better incorporation of pedestrianization measures, including traffic calming, location of bus stops and provision of free bus passes, and dedicated bike lanes and connections to the Bay-to-Zoo trail. We can sequester more carbon (and reduce impacts from forest conversion) by requiring the incorporation of natural planting for all of the development. 

If there are many concerning aspects of the project, there are also things to appreciate. The project proposes a diversity of housing types, including low-income and multifamily housing, in addition to standard-fare single family housing. The developer is also planning the incorporation of commercial space within the development, which will help to make the new development more walkable. The proposed project would be much better if it doubled down on these elements. Let’s build housing that integrates multiple income brackets together, that more closely incorporates neighborhood commercial space, that provides for affordable housing by design, that allows for a car-free lifestyle and promotes healthy behavior.

The development of housing in California is a statewide priority and our development decisions now will affect our communities and our environment far into the future. Let’s get it right.

EPIC Challenges Take Permit Issued to Green Diamond

In late May, EPIC submitted an opening brief in the case to overturn a permit that threatens California’s last remaining Humboldt martens. With fewer than 200 likely in the state, the marten is teetering on the edge of extinction. Necessary to the long-term survival of the species is to connect the largest population of martens, found on Six Rivers National Forest in Del Norte County, to prime habitat in the Redwood National and State Parks complex to the southwest. Standing in the way is Green Diamond, which owns the majority of this area.

Humboldt marten courtesy Siuslaw National Forest, USFS

Green Diamond’s clearcut-heavy management is antithetical to the needs of the Humboldt marten. Martens require mature forests and a thick layer of herbaceous undergrowth to slink through the forest undetected by predators. Clearcutting destroys this undergrowth and leaves martens exposed. Clearcutting also provides prime habitat for the marten’s number one predator, bobcats, whose populations explode because of the woodrats and rabbits that enjoy clearcuts. With so many bobcats present, Green Diamond’s lands become uninhabitable for martens and, where clearcuts are near occupied marten habitat, bobcats begin to tread further into these occupied areas. That’s why it is curious that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the company a free pass to “take” martens through their management.

Through funny math and a promise to relocate martens, Green Diamond convinced higher ups at the Department to issue a permit. And as we’ve now discovered through Public Records Act requests and through litigation, the actual scientists who work closely with Green Diamond were aghast—one writing that “this [Safe Harbor Agreement] sounds absolutely Orwellian” and that the permit “will, as a whole, actually be harmful.” Political interference to benefit a powerful timber company and plodding through the objections of staff scientists is something that we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration, not California’s wildlife agency.